A Mercy Killing for Labor

Only upon the ruins of Labor could a real alternative to the near-permanent rule of the Likud be constructed.

Vote for Benjamin (Fuad) Ben-Eliezer, or at least Matan Vilnai. This appeal must be directed now to members of the Labor Party, who will choose the party's leader next week. If one of these two candidates is elected, the party could finally be put out of its misery. The Labor Party now deserves more than anything else a mercy killing. With all of the emotional difficulty this entails - it is still a historic preservation structure - there is no alternative to disconnecting this unconscious vegetable from the respiratory apparatus that is somehow keeping it alive.

The fatal blow could best be delivered by Ben-Eliezer or, sadly, by Vilnai. The election of Shimon Peres or Amir Peretz would herald another few years of suffering, both for the party and for the system of government in Israel. But if one of these two gray and insignificant generals is elected, Israeli democracy would reap the benefits: Only upon the ruins of this half-dead party could a real alternative to the near-permanent rule of the Likud be constructed.

The primaries next Wednesday are designed to elect "Labor's candidate for prime minister," but no one seriously thinks the person elected will be the next prime minister. It is, therefore, another bogus show in which the Labor Party plays the role reserved for it in recent years - aiming, without a chance, to soon return to the premiership. Learned pollsters examine which candidate has the greater chances, though the bitter truth is known to all: Ariel Sharon will be there for another term, unless Benjamin Netanyahu recovers from his defeat. Really, who will vote for Labor? The disciples of Dalia Itzik? The admirers of Ephraim Sneh? And why should they? Those who supported the disengagement will vote for the real thing, not the fake. And those who opposed it will certainly not vote Labor. Those who oppose the occupation will not vote Labor, and those in favor of continuing the occupation would not dream of voting for Labor.

The party fully earned its miserable status. After generations of a leadership that led the country to the brink of an abyss by perpetuating the occupation and social ruination, it stepped down from power without learning any lessons. It did not change its ways one bit. Its institutions are rotten, branches upon branches of corruption and ideological barrenness. Its only message in recent years was epitomized in automatic support for Sharon's moves and impressive acrobatics aimed at holding on to its seats in the government.

There was not a hint of an original idea, nor a trace of fresh thinking, only worn-out slogans from the past that are indistinguishable from those voiced by Sharon. "No" to outposts and "yes" to settlements, "yes" to blocs and "yes" to the fence, "no" to occupation and "yes" to its perpetuation, "yes" to disengagement, but only under Sharon's tutelage. The Israeli occupation enterprise, with its curse of settlements, owes much to this party. More than the Likud, more than the extreme right, the Labor Party bears responsibility for its original sins, and it has not paid the price for this. Sharon is blamed, the Yesha leadership is blamed, and people forget who created this terrible mess and who has done nothing to bring about its denouement.

Even if a miracle happened, the Likud went crazy and Labor came to power, this would not herald any real change. Even if we assumed that Peres, the candidate with the best chance, won in the elections for the first time in his life, what would change then? He would consult more often with Abu Mazen, and the atmosphere at the talks would always be excellent. Perhaps he would also manage to raise more donations for the Palestinian Authority, and he would speak about peace and social justice, but the settlements would continue to flourish, the occupation would continue to wield a heavy hand, the "war on terror" would continue to be waged in the same bloody and hopeless way, and social polarization would grow deeper.

If, on the other hand, Amir Peretz is elected, the semblance of a fresh breeze would blow, but it would not generate any real change. The chance for change will come, paradoxically, only if Ben-Eliezer or Vilnai is elected. Neither has ever uttered even the flicker of a new idea, and their chances in elections are even poorer than those of Peres and Peretz. They would hasten the anticipated end. Vilnai's election slogan, "Only Vilnai can," is amazingly precise. The mind that once explained to students in Eilat, when he was the commander of the Southern Front, that "it is impossible for the bird-brained Palestinians to undermine the State of Israel," and who deliberated at the beginning of his political career whether to join Labor, the Likud, the Third Way or the Center Party, is a worthy candidate to finally lower the curtain on the depressing spectacle of the party he happened to choose.

Ben-Eliezer, who was the defense minister during the early days of the current intifada and who was responsible for many of the brutal and cruel measures Israel is still employing against the Palestinians, is even a more deserving candidate. Imagine, Vilnai a candidate for prime minister? Ben-Eliezer the leader of the Labor Party? It sounds grotesque, and it is, therefore, an excellent opportunity to get rid of one of the most ugly humps in Israeli politics. Therefore, vote Fuad, or at least Vilnai.